View Full Version : Hmm. Worldbuilding gone wrong?

12-11-2006, 10:14 PM
I've ended up with the world that has a very sharp dichotomy drawn through it; one part of it is primative, the other technologically advanced. I draw the main characters from both parts of this world; but now I have an interesting problem.

I open the story on the primative end of the world--and it reads like a fantasy. Of course, it is fantasy, except I feel like I'm lying to the reader--presenting the world in terms the primative character can understand, and then in chapter two, jumping to a world we'll easily relate to. Ok, well, a world that sci fi readers will easily relate to.

The characters will meet up relatively soon in the story--and not in a nice way--but until that point, I'm worried that slinging the reader across the world might not be a good idea.

Is it better to switch perspectives, back and forth, until the characters meet? Or to follow the primative character--drop hints that the world isn't quite how she's seeing it--until she meets the non-primative character, and switch perspective there?

I can't stay in the primative character's head the whole time, because otherwise all of the story following the other character will seem like Dues ex Machina--and likewise vice versa.

...or can I?


Hm? Oh. Don't mind me. I'm just thinking into the keyboard. :)

12-11-2006, 10:32 PM
I wouldn't say this is a worldbuilding gone wrong issue. The situation you've described could lead to lots of interesting stories. I could see both of what you've described: the "primitive" character trying to come to terms with the "magic" of technology, or characters from both sides of the fence trying to deal with the other.

Whether one approach is better than the other is very subjective. I think it depends on the story you want to tell. The only caution I can think of offhand is not to dash reader expectations. Some people don't like mixing science with their fantasy, so if the first part reads strictly as fantasy it'll be very jarring when the science part hits. Throwing in hints of the other society would help.

Other authors have played with this type of concept. Roger Zelazny wrote a couple, Changeling and Madwand, I think? Also, Anne McCaffrey's first few Pern books might give you some ideas. Joan D. Vinge's The Snow Queen series might help, too.

12-11-2006, 10:36 PM
I agree that the hints are important to keep the reader on balance. Don't want unbalanced readers, oh, no!

12-11-2006, 11:04 PM
I think the best way to do this is to introduce at some point an "artifact." Something very high-tech that might or might not even work anymore, but evidences to the astute reader that this world was (or might still be) much more advanced than these people can attest to.

Just don't do it like M Night Shamalamadingdong.

12-12-2006, 04:25 AM
Or to follow the primative character--drop hints that the world isn't quite how she's seeing it--until she meets the non-primative character, and switch perspective there?

This sounds like an effective way to do it, and introducing something like dclary's artifact will keep the reader wondering. But I'm sure you could make switching perspectives work, too, because then the reader will be wondering about the sharp contrast between the two perspectives.

So I think it's just a matter of preference - do whichever you want to do. Neither really seems like a problem. Don't be apologetic for your world being the way it is, come right out and use it to good effect in your story!

12-12-2006, 04:28 AM
A little genlte foreshadowing will help the reader. After all the low-tech people must have some awarness of the high tech people even if just from seeing their vehicles and cities from a distance?

You could also leap from character to character and braid them together later but if the plot doesn't require it...

12-12-2006, 06:00 AM
Vernor Vinge's "Fire on the Deep" deals with two very divergent story lines - one hight tech, and the other low tech with elements of psionics that could be at home in a fantasy.

12-12-2006, 07:23 AM
I like dclary's idea about the artifact. You might also consider having a couple of the primitives muse over stories they've heard about the wonders of the other side of the world. It makes me think of Zelazny's "Jack of Shadows," where magic worked on one side of the world and science on the other.

12-12-2006, 07:32 AM
I think you should give up, and write a story about bunnies.

I like bunnies.

and, on a serious note, don't think into your keyboard at a messageboard. do it on an excel spreadsheet or an extra word file so you can go back to it and try again.

you're the only one who can answer your own questions, because you're the only one who truly knows what you need.

12-12-2006, 07:48 AM
I think you should give up, and write a story about bunnies.

I like bunnies.Smeerps are better.

you're the only one who can answer your own questions, because you're the only one who truly knows what you need.I have all the answers, kneel before Zod!

12-12-2006, 08:57 AM
Bart do both worlds adhere to the same set of science rules? If magic works in the primitive but not the modern then you have a problem.
Another question, whose side are you on? The cultures are obviously going to be in conflict. Will the primitives be eliminated or forced to give up their culture. Will the primitives turn out to have sounder values, more vigorous and more adaptable? Assuming you have this question answered having competing protagonists may get readers identifying with both cultures and make the conflict more powerful.

Oh bad ducky.

12-12-2006, 09:24 AM

Do the primitives know about the techies? If so, your primitive point of view character would mention the techies or think about them or consider them in some way to tip off the reader. That way, it isn't a total shock when you find out that Bruce Willis was a ghost the entire time, because there were clues all through the story.

And even if it is a surprise, if readers go back and read the story a second time and notice all the clues, then they may have been surprised but they won't be upset.

If the primitives have no idea that the techies exist, then the shock that the primitives go through would map well to the shock the reader goes through, and you could take advantage of that, having the primitives be surprised exactly like a lot of your readers might be. Because primitives WOULD be surprised by it. But if they react realisticly, and it uses the readers reaction to amplify it, then your readers may be surprised, but they shouldn't be upset.

Alex Bravo
12-16-2006, 06:33 AM
What if the primitive world is primitive because they use magic, but the techies don't because they've lost their belief (magic only works with belief). The techies only believe what can be explained and proven through science.

12-17-2006, 06:10 AM
Most of what everyone says here is good advice. You need to decide what the story you want to tell requires. And you need to figure out what the rules of the world are and play strictly within those rules.

The rules should come first. Answer those questions posed by others about whether the primitives know about the techies and vice versa, etc. greglondon has some very good points and suggestions.

Once you've got those ground rules to play with (I assume you already have those figured out) then you need to look at the plot and figure out exactly what's needed. You should only introduce elements in the story when they are needed. So if you start with the primitive POV, don't introduce the techies until it's necessary. If you have to introduce the techies and you think the shock might kill the reader, prep the reader for it by dropping hints, foreshadowing their arrival, etc.

In the end, you need to write it how your gut tells you to write it. You can always fix it in revisions if your gut changes its mind later. *grin*